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Battle for Bear Heats Up


Shareholders choose sides, lesser of two evils.

Lines are being drawn in the battle for collapsed investment bank Bear Stearns (BSC).

The Wall Street Journal reports British billionaire Joe Lewis is trying to amass support among investors looking for an alternative to the JP Morgan (JPM) takeover. According to Bloomberg, the Bear debacle has cost Lewis $1.19 billion - almost half his net worth. He called the $2 per share offer "derisory."

Other Bear shareholders, such as hedge fund Thunderstorm Capital and former Bear chairman Jimmy Cayne, are reportedly teaming up with Lewis to oppose the merger. Cayne is said to have lost almost a billion dollars since Bear's stock price peaked at $171.51 last year.

On the other side of the field, JP Morgan is rounding up Bear's employees to ensure the deal is voted through. CEO Jamie Dimon offered managing directors and other key employees cash and stock incentives, asking them to give JP Morgan a chance. Bear employees own around one-third of the firm's outstanding shares.

Further complicating the situation, many holders of Bear's credit default swaps, or CDS, stand to gain if the company files for Chapter 11. CDS protect their owner against default and are worth more in bankruptcy. Professor Bloudek points out this group of investors are doing battle over shares in an attempt to increase the value of their CDS positions.

Shareholders must weigh two sides of an unpleasant coin. Accepting the existing bid means taking a huge loss, wiping out retirement savings and in some cases entire net worths.

On the other hand, fighting the deal in the hopes of a better bid is a long shot, as the merger was written to preclude counteroffers. Blocking the deal risks bankruptcy proceedings that could put equity holders at risk of losing everything.

Two bucks may, in fact, be better than nothing.
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